Commentary: Running like the wind

Members of the Air Reserve Personnel Center run here as part of the ARPC physical training program Feb. 23. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dwayne Beuthel.)

Members of the Air Reserve Personnel Center run here as part of the ARPC physical training program Feb. 23. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dwayne Beuthel.)

DENVER -- I have always wanted to do well on my PT test. When the Air Force implemented the 1.5 mile run, I was extremely out of shape. I never needed to do any cardio workouts because I would always pass my bike test. As for the weight room, I had no time to for it nor did I want to make time. However, when the Air Force announced the new 1.5 requirement -- all of that had to change.

Now that running is a component of the PT test, I knew the only way to complete the 1.5 miler and not pass out was to add running to my already over tasked daily activities. But, I did not want to start running for the sake of just running to get in shape. I wanted to learn how to run efficiently, what was involved in running, and most of all, how to get in shape for running.

There is a form to running efficiently. I have to try very hard to run in this perfect form. Although I have not mastered it and probably never will, I have made a few changes to my form that I believe helped me expend less energy and effort while running. Running creates energy. How you use your energy determines how much effort it will take to build and maintain momentum. That said, when I run, I focus on running tall with my head straight and motionless, relaxing my upper body, controlling my breathing (getting into a rhythm), landing on my heel and pushing off my toes, and moving my arms and legs in a coordinated symmetrical motion.

Next, I had to address my diet. This was hard for me and is still a challenge. But, I try to follow a few rules to keep me in line. I eat fruits and vegetables every day. I like baby carrots as snacks or spinach leaves as a substitute for lettuce on sandwiches or in salads. I also enjoy grilled onions and bell peppers. For fruit, I eat oranges, blueberries, grapes (I LOVE grapes) and apples. Also, you should find a good protein source. My preference is fish, lean chicken breast or sliced turkey breast - not deli meat. As for carbohydrates, I choose 100 percent whole wheat bread or cereal. Last but not least, I eat a daily portion of almonds, another favorite. If I can't get almonds, I also like unsalted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. So, those are the kinds of foods I try to eat on a daily basis. Here are those I stay away from or at the very least, eat no more than once a week: anything fried, whole milk, soda, pastries and processed foods like hotdogs and frozen meals.

We know muscles are involved in running. Therefore, it made sense to me that if I did not want to hurt during and after my PT test, I had to spend a little time on stretching and strength. Strengthening and stretching the muscles required more attention than was given by just running. Cross training and weight lifting on Tuesday and Thursday while stretching everyday helped with my overall goal. By understanding what muscles were involved in running, I learned how to strengthen and stretch those muscles while also increasing my cardio endurance.

Taking what I learned, I created my initial workout schedule.

For the first 30 days, I ran/walk one mile each Monday, Wednesday and Friday and 1.5 miles on Saturday, including stretching every day.

The next 30 days, I increased my Monday, Wednesday and Friday runs to 1.5 miles and Saturday was a 3-mile run. I continued stretching every day.

After 60 days, my endurance was building rapidly. My 3-mile Saturdays were easy and comfortable. At this point, I added 30 to 45 minutes of upper/lower body weight training and increased my run distances.

Monday - 2 to 3 miles
Tuesday - Lower body workout and stretching
Wednesday - 2 to 3 miles
Thursday - Upper body workout and stretching
Friday - 2 to 3 miles
Saturday - 3 to 5 miles easy

Ninety days later, I tested. My 1.5 mile run was now under 11 minutes. Not satisfied, I decided to take it to the next level. In order to max out my PT test, I had to finish the run in less than 10 minutes. To do that, I added speed work.

Monday -- Speed work (Sprints 3 x 400 meters with 200 meter jogs in between)
Tuesday - 2 to 3 mile run
Wednesday -- Leg/upper body workout
Thursday - 2 to 3 mile run
Friday -- Speed work (Sprints 4 x 400 meters with 200 meter jogs in between)
Saturday -- Long distance run (30 to 45 minutes)
Sunday - rest

Using this workout and changing the speed workouts by increasing the distance every week for 30 days allowed me to max out my run time in just 4 months from the day I started. The last time I ran the 1.5 mile run, my time was 9:18. My new goal includes running my first marathon.

Take advantage of all the resources available - the physical training leaders, the Buckley Fitness Center staff and the Health and Wellness Center. All of these resources are there for you and your fitness endeavors. For me, using the workouts above, stretching, and closely monitoring what I ate helped me reach and maintain my fitness level. With perseverance and practice your run time and your overall score can improve too.